Arrogant devil, p.1
Arrogant Devil, p.1R.S. Grey
Copyright © 2018 R.S. Grey
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Published: R.S. Grey 2018
Editing: Editing by C. Marie
Proofreading: JaVa Editing, Red Leaf Proofing
Cover Design: R.S. Grey
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ARROGANT DEVIL is a full-length standalone novel of 93,000 words. At the end, I’ve included an excerpt from my #1 bestselling sports romance THE SUMMER GAMES: SETTLING THE SCORE.
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I left my husband last night. There’s something so nice about the past tense—left. He’s still in California. Meanwhile, I’m standing in a gas station in Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas. I have no money, no car. I pawned a gaudy diamond tennis bracelet to purchase a plane ticket to San Antonio, and to its credit, the bracelet also paid for the taxi currently fueling up at the pump outside. However, my cash has run out and my stomach is growling.
I eyeball the shelves lined with an array of sugary junk food. It’s the good stuff: half-dozen packs of white powdered donuts that are messier than glitter bombs and stacks of sad, deflated honey buns. It all seems like what aliens would come up with if tasked with recreating human food. In spite of this, my mouth waters just looking at it all. I want to tear open a bag of Doritos and waterfall the chips straight into my mouth. I want to double-fist the ancient, desiccated hot dogs destined to forever spin on greasy rollers—that’s how hungry I am.
I didn’t plan my departure very well. I didn’t plan it at all, in fact. Last night, I was lying on my side of the bed, wide awake. Andrew was snoring loudly beside me, just as confident as ever that the sun would rise in the morning like it always does. An hour earlier, he’d come in late from a work dinner with lipstick smeared on his cheek. His white collar, meanwhile, was pristine.
I had a million reasons for leaving him—enough to fill this entire gas station snack aisle, enough to make any marriage counselor put a big down payment on a vacation home—but last night, I only needed one. I left, and that’s all that matters. There’s half a country between him and me, and the only thing I have to worry about now is putting my next foot forward…well, that and the fact that I have nowhere to go, no money, no job, and no food. I’m also rapidly running out of sellable accessories, but let’s not get bogged down by the details.
I stare at a can of peanuts sitting on the shelf. Yesterday, I could have slapped my black AMEX down on the checkout counter and dragged my arm across the shelf, knocking food into my basket like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. Now, I can’t afford peanuts; Andrew canceled my cards as soon as he realized I left.
I smile, imagining how pissed he must have been when the truth dawned on him. He never thought I’d do it. It was part of his spiel: Who pays the bills? Who buys your clothes? You’re nothing without me, Meredith—worthless.
In a purely financial sense, he was right about the whole “worthless” thing. My net worth currently consists of a couple dollars and some loose change. He was wrong about the other part though. I left him, and I did it in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on my back. It’s the outfit I had laid out for a charity luncheon—an event that must be taking place at this very moment without me. The ensemble is a frilly white blouse, Hermes belt, and designer jeans.
My great escape was a victim of my fleeting courage. I knew if I sat down and planned it all out, I’d lose my nerve. I needed to have no time to back out, no second-guessing. Now, I realize I should have been a bit more practical. I should have packed myself some getaway snacks, water, maybe some sneakers.
Honestly, though, I never thought I would be here. Of all the places I could have run to, Texas seemed to make the most sense because of my sister—well, technically she’s my half-sister. I recall the phone conversation I had with her last night while I was at the airport trying to catch a red-eye. I had to dial her number about a dozen times before she finally answered.
“Meredith?” she asked, obviously shocked to see my name appear on her phone screen. We aren’t exactly close. She probably has me in her phone as That Half-Sister I Hardly Know, Meredith. To be fair, I have her in my phone as Half-Helen.
She didn’t answer back right away. There was so much static on her end of the line.
“Are you there? Can you hear me?” I plugged my free ear with a finger and hoped the call would suddenly come through clearer.
“Barely!” she shouted. “What’s going on? I have like fifty missed calls from you.”
I blanched. “Yeah, well, it’s actually kind of a long story, but I’m on my way to Texas.”
She sounded shocked, and that’s fair. She’s lived in the Lone Star State for six years and I’ve never visited.
I cut right to the chase since time was another luxury I’d abandoned.
“Yes, and I have a favor to ask…a rather big one actually.”
“Speak up, Meredith, I can hardly hear you. You need a favor?”
“Yes, well, that is”—I raised my voice—“I was wondering if I could stay with you for a while?!”
“I’m actually already headed your way.”
A lighthearted, singsong chuckle on my end did not ease her shock.
“Are you kidding? Brent, hold on, it’s Meredith.”
I heard a door close and then she dropped a bomb.
“Well, I hope you haven’t left yet. I’m in Paris.”
“You’re in Paris?! P
For the record, my sister is not a jetsetter. I hoped she meant Paris, Texas, not the croissant-filled country half a world away.
“Yes, Paris Paris. Brent and I are traveling for the next three months while our house gets renovated.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
I really almost broke down then. My throat was tightening. Tears were locked and loaded. People were starting to look at me and wonder if TSA had made a mistake letting me through security.
My flight was already boarding as my sister continued, “We’ve been wanting to redo the kitchen and bathrooms for a while…”
What the hell does that have to do with Paris?
“…so we thought, why not make a big trip out of it while our house is unlivable?”
Unlivable. I guess there’s more than one way to demolish a home, a life.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Let’s see, I told the bank, the contractors, the permit office—oh darnit! Now that you mention it, I did forget to tell the half-sister I haven’t spoken to since when…Christmas?”
Her tone implied that was my fault, and it was—partly.
“Sorry, I’ve been MIA.”
“It’s fine. Listen, why don’t we try to schedule something for the holidays like we always say we will? This time we’ll do it. I’ll fix up the guest room for you and Andrew—”
I rubbed my eyes, hoping I could push the tears back to where they belonged. There was so much to catch her up on.
“No, Helen. It’s a long story, but I need to come now. Can I stay in the house while you guys are gone?”
“It’s a disaster zone. There are exterior walls missing. That’s why we left.”
“Right.” Of course. She’d just told me that. “What about jobs? Do you know of anyone hiring? I could update my resume…I think I have it saved on my old university email somewhere.”
At that point Helen began to crack up, then she repeated my request to Brent, and together, their chorus of laughter pounded on my heart like it was a punching bag.
Oh ha-ha-ha, your life is falling apart before your very eyes. Stop, stop—you’re killing me!
“Is this a prank? If so, it’s a very expensive, overseas-phone-call prank. Did Andrew put you up to this?”
“Last call for passengers for flight 365, service to San Antonio. Final boarding at gate 12.”
She must have heard the announcement, because her next words were delivered in a much more serious tone. “Oh my god, you’re really at the airport, aren’t you?”
I was flying down the terminal, knocking down any and all children and elderly people in my path, trying to get to my gate before they closed the doors without me. They even said my name over the loudspeaker. I always wondered what kind of dummy has to have their name announced like that. Me. I’m the dummy.
“Yes. Helen, I’m coming to Texas and I need your help.” I was out of breath from running as I pleaded with her. “Please. I can’t explain, but I just need to cash in whatever love you might have for me.”
She sighed, exasperated. She was always exasperated with me about one thing or another, which was one of the reasons I hadn’t bothered visiting in the past.
“Fine. Call me when you land.”
Turns out I didn’t need to call her. She apparently guessed the gist of my situation while I was sitting in a metal tube 30,000 feet in the air and came to her own conclusions. By the time I landed, I had a dozen text messages from her, each one berating me for my impulsiveness and apparent irrationality.
Helen: Is this all a game, or are you actually leaving Andrew? I’m not going to start calling in favors for you if you’re just going to quit and fly back to California in a week.
Seems cold, right? Well, here’s the thing: Helen and I don’t exactly see eye to eye. We never have. We’re ten years apart in age, and our father left her mother for mine. In her eyes, I had the glorious, perfect childhood that was taken from her…and okay, sure, those first few years were pretty good. I got to go on family vacations and every year I had one big Christmas instead of two small ones, but then just like he’d done before, our dad got bored and moved on to the next woman. We should have bonded over our soap opera-worthy father figure, but she graduated and moved out the second she had the chance. Ever since, we’ve both basically been pretending the other sister doesn’t exist.
When I made it outside the airport in Texas, I tried to call her. I dialed…scooted forward in the taxi line…dialed again. I wanted to explain the situation as quickly as possible, and I couldn’t do that over text. It was a lot to explain, and well, my fingers were still shaking from what I’d done. Also, the sordid truth is best explained sans emojis.
When she didn’t answer, I was forced to text her and keep it brief.
Meredith: I left Andrew for good. I need a job and a place to stay. If you can help, that would be wonderful. If you can’t, that would be less wonderful.
Helen: Fine. I’ll ask Jack if he needs a temp. I’ll send you instructions for how to get to Blue Stone Ranch.
Meredith: You are wonderful.
Helen: Don’t make me regret this.
So anyway, that’s why I’m here, spending what little money I have on a road trip across Central Texas.
Blue Stone Ranch is where my sister has worked for the last six years. I can’t begin to imagine what she does as the executive assistant to the owner. Shine his spurs? Shear his sheep? Bale his hay? It’s all a little out of my realm, but I’ll do it all and more—gladly.
My stomach growls again so loudly that I know the cashier manning the gas station counter can hear it. Thankfully, she seems too distracted with problems of her own.
I peek out the front window just as the taxi driver finishes up at the pump. No one knows the truth about my life except him. He’s heard it all. In the few hours since he picked me up from the airport, he’s acted as my chauffeur and silent therapist. Even better, there’s no way he’ll be repeating any of the details I dumped on him because I’m pretty sure he’s had headphones in the entire time. All morning, he’s responded with resigned grunts and sighs—the universal language of annoyance. I’m pretty sure he’s tempted to get back into the taxi and leave me to fend for myself in the Texas badlands.
I need to get a move on.
Driven by a primal urge, I yank the can of peanuts off the shelf and carry them to the counter.
This feeling in the pit of my stomach is new, and I’m pretty sure it’s not hunger-related. This is like nothing I’ve ever done before. I’ve never stood on my own two feet—I’ve never had to. I married Andrew right out of college. He was seven years older, already well on his way up the ladder at a big production company. I moved out of my college apartment straight into his multimillion-dollar house in Beverly Hills.
It’s funny how much I used to fear what is now happening to me. I assumed it was a fate worse than death to end up alone, poor, and directionless. If Andrew taught me anything, it’s that I was wrong.
I plunk the nuts on the checkout counter and the attendant meets my eye. She offers a weak smile, and I can see the strain of life etched in the crow’s feet around her eyes.
“How are you this morning?” I ask with a small, empathetic smile.
For a second, her mouth starts to form a generic answer, but she must see something she recognizes in my expression because she laughs quietly and shakes her head.
“Honestly? I’ve been better.”
I nod. “Same here.”
She’s pointing to the can of peanuts. I look down and the light catches brightly on my diamond wedding ring. It’s my last tie to the life I’m trying to leave behind, the last vestige of a man who for five years covered me with shiny things while trying his damnedest to dull my own sparkle. I could sell it and use the money as a cushion—Lord knows I need it—but I won’t. I don’t want any more of his money. Besides, soon, I’ll have my own. I basically just got hir
Without a shadow of hesitation, I slide the heavy jewel off my finger and drop it on the chipped linoleum counter with a clack.
“Get a good price for that,” I say, shaking the can of nuts. “I know I did.”
“Fuckin’ hell. Who left the damn gate open!?”
There are pigs everywhere: in the garden, the barn, down the gravel drive. I even found one in the house, a chunky little piglet rooting around in my kitchen, canvassing for crumbs. I snatched him up and walked out onto my porch to find half my ranch hands running low to the ground with arms outstretched, trying to catch as many pigs as they could before I noticed.
Pigs are squealing, ranch hands are tripping and cursing to high heaven, and the head gardener is over near the parsnips looking like an outmatched bouncer at a 21-and-up bar. It looks like a ridiculous rodeo sport that should involve elementary school-aged children, not grown-ass men.
Arrogant Devil by R.S. Grey / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes